How Much Did McCain Know About Palin? Sen. John McCain says he knew, before offering Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin the job as his running mate, that her 17-year-old daughter was pregnant. Nonetheless, the revelation is spurring questions about the vetting process.
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How Much Did McCain Know About Palin?

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How Much Did McCain Know About Palin?

How Much Did McCain Know About Palin?

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, Gustav's come and gone on the Gulf Coast, and in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Republican National Convention is back.

BRAND: But first, the story that threatens to overshadow the GOP's main event, the still developing picture of vice presidential choice Sarah Palin and what the McCain campaign knew about her before she was picked.

With us now from St. Paul, Minnesota at the convention is NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. And Ron, it seems that every day, we're learning more about Sarah Palin, and not just about her family, her 17-year-old daughter who's now pregnant, but about other things that seem contradictory, her support for federal earmarks, even though she says no, she's against them, her support for the bridge to nowhere, which she is now against. Tell us more.

RON ELVING: I think there's been a turnaround in the career of Sarah Palin, and I think it's quite an understandable one. When she first was going from the city level, city of Wasilla, to the state level and dealing with the power structure there in Alaska, she dealt with Senator Ted Stevens and she dealt with Congressman Don Young. And she supported their projects, and they did things for her that helped her get a lot money spent in her town.

Then, of course, things changed in Alaska. The governor was wounded. He was under investigation, and she ran against him. And she won the Republican nomination for governor. At that point, if you will, her pathway changed rather radically, and she became an opponent of the way things are done and a reformer and a person who John McCain would be attracted to as a kind of earmark buster, even though she had been a great beneficiary of earmarks up to that point.

BRAND: So this whole idea of her as a maverick is now under question.

ELVING: It's just not that. It's been her pattern throughout her political career, which, after all, is not really that long. She was in one kind of mode when she was the mayor of Wasilla, and she was in a somewhat different mode when she made the move to the statewide level and then, of course, to the national level.

BRAND: OK. Well, speaking about politics, there are a lot of questions now swirling around whether or not she was vetted properly and whether or not McCain made a rash decision in choosing her.

ELVING: The campaign has said that she submitted to a three-hour interview with the vetter for the campaign, and that she answered a 70-question questionnaire. Now, of course, we have not seen the transcript of that interview, and we haven't seen the questionnaire. We don't know what questions might not have been answered, and, as we do know, you can ask 70 questions and leave out the one question people are going to be asking a week later.

It's very difficult to do this kind of vetting process quickly, and it does appear as though it were not necessarily a terribly long vetting process. That it was done in a timely fashion, but not over a long period of time. In other words, we really have just been introduced to her in the last few days, and the McCain campaign has not had an opportunity to talk to a lot of people in Alaska about her, to get, if you will, the full 360 on Sarah Palin.

BRAND: Now, from what I've heard, she was not John McCain's first choice. His first choice was either Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge, but both are pro-choice, and that wouldn't have gone over well.

ELVING: He had been clearly contradicted on this by some of the elements in his campaign and people telling him, if you do that, if you pick someone who is pro-choice, you will lose the enthusiasm of the convention because so many of the people here at the convention are very strong social conservatives and beyond that. And, more importantly, you'll lose their enthusiastic participation this fall and in the November vote. And Karl Rove, among others, will tell you that's why George W. Bush lost the popular vote for President by 500,000 votes in November 2000 but won it by several million in 2004. The measure, the difference, was the enthusiasm level among social conservatives and religious Republicans.

BRAND: NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, joining us from St. Paul, Minnesota, site of the Republican national convention. Thanks, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Madeleine.

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